Tomatoes and Culture Change: Unintended Consequences


Several years ago, plant scientists discovered a genetic mutation that caused the tomato to ripen evenly, instead of leaving a greenish-yellow top on an otherwise ripe tomato.  Since consumers in supermarkets preferred a fully red tomato to one with a yellowish top, the mutated plants were propagated and even though the tomatoes were picked green, they ripened evenly, producing a lovely fully red ripe tomato.

However, there was a slight problem with this otherwise brilliant solution.  They weren’t as sweet as yellow-topped (non-mutated) tomatoes.  In fact, they were pretty bland.  Beautiful, but bland. Seems that gene controlling the yellow top had something to do with flavour.

This is an excellent example of what I will call a “brilliant solution with unintended consequences”. Military “drones” (UAVs) are another excellent example where the solution, a precision strike, often has the unintended consequences of civilian collateral damage. And culture change programs are a third example!

Most executives don’t understand the unintended consequences that result from a culture change programme that fails, and many culture change efforts just don’t deliver the intended benefits.  But, like a UAV, they do deliver something – unintended consequences.

(Note: this excerpt was taken from my forthcoming book: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, due to be released before the end of the year by Rapid Lightning Press, London.)

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Tomatoes and Culture Change: Unintended Consequences

  1. The unintended consequences of human action is a study in itself. What a shame our politicians never took this course 🙂


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